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Sheffield City Trust’s year of controversies

The Trust, which manages venues including Sheffield City Hall, has found itself at the centre of controversial events and legal action over the last few months.

Sheffield city centre from above South Street amphitheatre - no credit needed

Sheffield City Trust (SCT), formerly Sheffield International Venues, made the headlines again a couple of months ago when it had to settle a legal dispute with Franklin Graham, an American evangelical preacher who was due to host an event in June 2020.

Graham, as part of an eight city tour of the UK, will now appear at Sheffield Arena in May 2022 after claiming that SCT’s cancellation of his event was in breach of contract. The decision to cancel the event was discussed between SCT and the Council in January 2020, with both parties stating that Graham didn’t fit with their values of equality and inclusion. Graham has publicly stated his beliefs that ‘gay marriage is a sin’ and called Islam an ‘evil and very wicked religion’.

This isn’t the first time that SCT has come under fire for their events programming. Comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown was due to appear at the City Hall in October 2021 but after a number of people wrote to the Council opposing Brown being platformed at a council-supported venue, the event was cancelled in August 2020.

Brown is known for his offensive humour and stance against political correctness and ‘wokeness’. This whole situation was made more awkward for the Council as its Race Equality Commission was ongoing at the time.

The cancellation of Brown’s event sparked anger amongst some and an online petition calling for the event to be reinstated garnered more than 30,000 signatures - including many from outside of the city.

The relationship between SCT and the Council has been a longstanding one, with SCT operating many of Sheffield’s major venues since 1987, including Ponds Forge, the English Institute of Sport, the Arena, and the City Hall. The operation of these major venues - which is supported financially by the Council - means that SCT takes sole responsibility for programming events.

A representative from Sheffield City Council reiterated this to Now Then, stating that “the Council does not control or have a say in how Sheffield City Trust programmes events at its venues but we do support them in their decisions, including their decision to remove Roy Chubby Brown from its programming.”

However, the existing arrangements with SCT come to an end in 2024, meaning the Council will explore other options for the city’s leisure and entertainment provisions. This could include bringing these services back in-house or appointing an external partner to run the venues, which would be put out to tender.

The Council has also recently announced a £100 million investment into Sheffield’s leisure and entertainment services, with a large part of this investment focusing on the backlog of maintenance at major venues like Ponds Forge.

“When booking events into our venues, we will have regard for our charitable status, our charitable objectives and our core values,” said SCT, when Now Then asked about their booking policies and whether these have been reviewed in light of the Brown and Graham cases.

“As a not-for-profit organisation, we work hard to provide equality of opportunity and deliver on our equality, diversity and inclusivity principles. We believe it is right to promote freedom of speech and to facilitate a varied and diverse entertainment programme that will appeal to as broad a range of Sheffield’s population as possible.

“We do not endorse the views of people or organisations that perform or present at our venues. As part of our decision-making process, we ensure that any event is not in breach of the law or poses a threat to public order and also consider other legal and cultural frameworks, with specific consideration to protected characteristics.

"The process of booking events will continue to use our existing framework for consideration of all shows added to our events programme, to offer diversity, promoting freedom of speech whilst being mindful of legal and cultural considerations for protected characteristics.”

But with SCT moving to cancel the Brown and Graham events after initially booking them, this statement seems to be in conflict with the actions taken, with no changes made to their booking policies.

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